Last night, at my son’s yearly school fundraiser carnival, I was sitting on a bench while he played on a playground with 30+ other happy kids. I was completely in the moment, enjoying the pure joy on each child’s face while they ran and climbed and jumped around and chattered happily at each other and screamed for the fun of it as they slid down the slides.
They had different colors of chalk coloring their hair from the carnival hair-coloring booth, and looked like some sort of tiny, blissful rainbow tribe as they swarmed the equipment. “When was the last time I had so much fun with so little?” I mused to myself.
(I always wonder this when I see kids with helium-filled balloons. When was the last time something so simple made me incredibly happy that way? Amazing.)
I looked up at the big Oklahoma sky at dusk; the sun was in the process of setting, and there were streaks of light beaming from behind the clouds into the bright blue, as if heaven was hiding behind them. The air was perfect–not too cool, not too hot–and I breathed it in, trying to be present and truly feel the happiness of the children of all ages playing in front of me. I think children are incredibly pure and beautiful, and I had a goofy smile on my face as I watched them.
I thought about how they had no worries yet about money, no fear about the future, and were living purely in the moment–and about how we adults need to do this more often, despite our adult responsibilities. Because in the end, none of our adult responsibilities, debts, or the possessions that prevent us from noticing life actually matter.
The moments are what matter, not the money we owe, or the things we own. We only get to ride this ride once, so I want to remember to pay attention to the sights along the way and appreciate the journey.
As I was making this vow to myself to take a lesson from the children to pay attention to the simple beauty around me, and to remember to be more present in my own life, an adorable little brunette-haired toddler walked from behind my bench on the right, into my vision, and onto the playground. He had huge brown eyes, and was so tiny and friendly that I visibly swooned and smiled at him. I just wanted to scoop him up for a hug.
He then turned to a woman standing at the edge of the playground, I’m assuming because she had kids playing there, and he waved up at her with a shy smile on his sweet face.
She continued to stare at the screen of her phone, and completely missed this moment of a small, innocent human trying to connect with her to share his completely altruistic inner kindness. She never looked up.
The little boy looked crestfallen for a moment, and then turned to go play, moving quickly past the unintentional rejection the way kids do. I immediately stopped feeling the peace and pure joy of the moment, and looked around me.
On the bench to my left, about 20 feet away, sat a man completely engrossed in his cell phone.
I looked to my right and saw 3 more adults standing around the playground, staring at their phones, never looking up from the screens.
I saw people walking to and from the playground, never looking up from the phones in their hands.
I suddenly became acutely aware of what I hadn’t noticed while I was marveling at the beautiful evening sky and smiling at the happiness of children: almost every adult I could see was either clutching a cell phone between glances, or staring at one and scrolling, ignoring everything else.
I felt stunned by this realization. And it made me more determined than ever that my husband and I stick to our guns and never have data plans, or more than the most basic cell phones available. Somehow we’ve survived our entire lives without constantly holding the Internet in our hands, and I’m certain we can survive the rest of our years free from suckling the eternally-online teat.
Because I don’t want to walk through my life like a technology zombie, staring blankly at glowing screens. I’m already on the computer enough at home and for my writing job; I don’t need to be tied to the Internet at all times. This seems psychologically unhealthy to me, the way we’re never alone with our thoughts anymore. I don’t understand why everyone is so afraid to be alone or have a peaceful moment or meal not shared with everyone else in their online world. I like feeling alone. I feel like I’m my truest self when I’m alone. It endlessly depresses me that “taking a break from Facebook for a week or two” has become the new Walden Pond.
The Universe and I had a moment together where we bonded over this glaringly obvious juxtaposition of what matters and what doesn’t, and I felt it wink at me. The fact that while I was sitting and deciding to try to appreciate life’s little moments more often (and watching life’s little reminders of this in action a.k.a. kids having a blast climbing on large plastic things), most of the adults standing around were completely missing the memo wasn’t lost on me.
And it didn’t make me feel superior or smarter than them, it just made me feel kind of sad inside. For all of us. Because we’re all connected by something so much bigger than the Internet could ever be, and some of us are trying to ignore this amazing reality by staring at a device in our hands, and seeking a connection to others without realizing it’s already there and all around us – no device needed.
My husband, son, and I then left the playground and went over to the bouncy houses where my small daredevil of a child did repeated flips down the giant inflatable slide and got plastic burns all over his face and back, because that’s how he rolls (literally). But I won’t forget the vow to remember to be a participant in my own life that I took on that bench near the playground where the kids played.
Thank you big blue sky, beautiful evening, happy children, cell phone zombies, Carl Jung, and winking Universe for the reminder.